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Why writers should leave Dan Brown alone

As you may or may not know, there’s a link to an article called ‘Dan Brown’s worst 20 sentences’ doing the rounds. Elsewhere, someone’s posted a Reader’s Guide (as in sarcastic commentary) to his latest book, The Lost Symbol, on their journal. I checked them both out, but you won’t get a link to either of those web pages from here.  


Honest criticism is one thing, but these two pieces aren’t looking to be helpful, they’re designed to encourage other people to make snide remarks and join in the laughter at Dan Brown’s expense. The ‘worst twenty sentences’ article tries to dress itself up as a serious critique, but one look at the title tells you the writer’s real intention.


According to the list, Dan Brown’s most heinous crime was choosing to call his novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’, because, as every smart person knows, Leonardo Da Vinci, actually means ‘Leonardo of Vinci’. 


So what? Before the book came out, if you’d asked just about anybody in the western world if they knew who ‘Da Vinci’ was, I guarantee you the vast majority would NOT have said, “Oh, hah, hah! You poor, cretinous fool, there’s no such person as OF Vinci.”    


I don’t understand why some people feel the need to play this ‘Bash the successful author, because we’re so clever and he’s so stupid’ game. If you don’t like a book, by all means say so, but the moment you invite others to join in with the public mockery, you’ve crossed the line as far as I’m concerned.


“Yeah, but he’s a famous author,” they, and a big chunk of their followers say. “He’s not supposed to write crappy sentences.”


Really?   Can any of us, with hand on heart, claim that we’ve never submitted something to an agent/editor/publisher that, when we look back on it later, didn’t contain a single ill-turned phrase? I know I can’t. 


Along with millions of others, I read The Da Vinci Code and enjoyed it. I also read Angels & Demons (which I preferred). I’m about sixty pages into The Lost Symbol, and so far, I like that too. 


If the people who try to pull other writers down spent more time trying to improve their own work, and less time demonstrating their complete lack of class to the rest of the world, maybe they’d have a better chance of ending up as successful as Dan Brown one day. Of course, before that can happen, they’d need to grow up. I hope they do.


What do you guys think?


Am I being unfair? Are famous authors fair game for ridicule, or should we focus on improving our own work?


As for me, I continue to pursue my dream of becoming a successful writer, derided for my lack of talent.  I'm already halfway there, now all I need is a best-seller.

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Sep. 26th, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)
I'm with you. But it isn't the criticisms of the authors I find disturbing; it is the criticism of their audience.

Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer may not be to my taste, but millions of readers enjoy their books. Are all of them stupid? I think not. When people make statements indicating that these books -- and their readers -- are stupid it only highlights their own arrogance. I understand that the readers who enjoy these authors simply have different taste than me. Not everyone loves wading through James Joyce or Faulkner. This is understandable. Taste is subjective.

And everyone has their own guilty pleasures. My wife absolutely loves Stephanie Meyer; I enjoy reading ridiculous pulp horror and sci-fi novels. These types of novels serves the same purpose in many ways -- the same purpose as a Hollywood action movie -- sometimes you just need an escape. My wife thinks some of the books I read are ridiculous, and she's absolutely right! But that doesn't mean they aren't fun to read.

The simple fact is that Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer wrote accessible books that led readers to turn the pages regardless of how much "literature" they have been exposed to previously. They could be considered gateway books for many young and inexperienced readers which is a great thing. That people still read anything at all in this day of so many electronic distractions is a wonderful thing from my perspective. Who knows? Maybe someone who enjoyed Dan Brown could go on and find Umberto Eco (who's been writing about a lot of the same historical controversies from a more academic/literary point of view for years). That would not be a bad thing.

There are so many examples of authors who write accessible books. Some get blated for it while others are praised. For example: Dean Koontz. His books are much the same -- short chapters, short paragraphs, easy to digest sentences, and a basic formula (and his formula works, at least for his readers). Louis Lamour's westerns are much the same. In some ways these best-selling popular authors are kind of like the punk rock bands I used to listen to in the eighties and nineties. During that timeframe in punk rock every song put out by the band would often sound the same. The band just needed to be sure that if every song sounded the same they picked a great song (take the Ramones or The Dead Milkmen, for example).

I think it is fine to put out honest criticism. In fact, it should be encouraged. But "Anyone who likes this is stupid" is not honest criticism. Being critical of the readers is not really a critic's job -- they should be critiquing the work, not the audience. That's where many critics seem to fail these days, in my opinion. I see this in film reviews. A working film critic may see hundreds of movies a year. Their taste will be a little different, and most likely be more demanding, than the person who watches maybe a movie a week.

It's funny -- and more than a little sad -- how the harshest criticisms of Brown and Meyer that I've read always seem to come from struggling authors. If they feel that what these best-selling novelists did is so easy, so simple, why don't they try to learn from the authors and find a way to recreate that success? I fear much has to do with jealousy more than honest criticism (not that there aren't things you can honestly be critical of in those novels -- see Berry's comments on "looking at each other" for example). But then again, young girls do make a big to-do over secret glances and that sort of thing. Maybe she is just speaking a specific language that I'm kind of deaf to as a married guy in his thirties. Berry and I are probably not her intended audience.

Sorry to ramble, but this has been on my mind a lot lately. I kind of take the criticisms of Twilight's audience personally because my wife, my sisters, my cousins, my aunts, and even my mother (who never reads speculative ficton) all love Meyer's books. When someone says the books or their readers are stupid you're talking about my family. And they aren't stupid. They're nurses, business owners, teachers, and professionals with advanced acedemic degrees.
Sep. 26th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC)
Great points about the audience ridicule issue. Really, I've had students ask me why I sometimes will poke fun of Twilight. And I turn around and make sure they understand that I notice that, yes, folks who don't normally pick up a book are picking up Meyer and Brown or Patterson or whoever is a current flavor of the month. And that's a good thing--the reading. And when the relative non-readers tire of Meyer or Brown or Patterson, they'll most likely turn authors writing in similar veins.

I've even had fellow educators ask why I enjoy reading Louis L'Amour, and I respond with "Because he told a heckuva good story, and it's my Mountain Dew and bag of Cheetos."

So, there we go. I've applied that analogy to Meyer and Brown with students just to demonstrate to them that the books aren't necessarily junk food for the mind, but everybody likes their chosen soft drink and grab bag of chips/similar.

And although I haven't read much Koontz, what I have read I've enjoyed and chewed up in a few nights.

And as Clint mentions right below about crits of King, I'll jump on in with this: I think the guy can tell a story like there's no tomorrow, but as a *writer* I think his forte is with the short story and the novella as forms. Just my two cents.
Sep. 27th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
Nothing wrong with a Mountain Dew and bag of Cheetos! :)

Not to get off topic, but I bet you're a great teacher, man. You have a real passion for your subject matter. That's a good analogy.

Whoops! I misspelled L'Amour. There's no excuse for that after how many of his books I've read. I'm ashamed.
Sep. 26th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
Wow! Thanks for taking the time to make such a considered response :)

Another point about authors deriding other authors' work, is that it's well-nigh impossible to do so without looking like you're jealous.

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